Hate Speech vs Free Speech: Where is the current strongest?

[This is a post by Diksha Dadu, Contributing Member]

In this blog, I will be focusing upon the legal provisions with respect to the concept of Hate Speech by critically analyzing Indian precedents and certain foreign judgments to differentiate between discussion and the advocacy of incitement acts which are considered prejudicial to maintenance of peace and harmony. Furthermore, I will be enunciating upon an effort to find a transformative yet harmonious approach in relation to hate speech on Freedom of Expression and examining the restriction thereof, followed by the conclusion.

Introduction

“…[T]hat the law shall be certain, and that it shall be just and shall move with the times.”Lord Reid, Judge as Law Maker

The disparity in jurisprudence on hate speech has been considered as remotely distant in Indian Constitutional Law while the terrain of free speech still remains a contested field. “Hate speech is termed as the speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence”, as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary. According to Article 19(1)(a), the right to freedom of speech and expression is granted to every citizen of democratic India. However, the constitution also provides for the reasonable restrictions against free speech in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence under Article 19(2) of The Constitution of India. The 2017 Law Commission Report, No. 267 recommended the introduction of new provisions within the penal code that specifically punish incitement to violence in addition to the existing ones while examining the scope of hate speech laws in India. Moreover, free speech is considered quintessential for every democracy to work efficiently. The doctrine of free speech has evolved as a bulwark against the state’s power to regulate speech. The liberal doctrine was a measure against the undemocratic power of the state.

Thus, this gives us an inference upon the reflection and attitude of our legislature and the juncture of decision making by the judiciary towards the issue of hate speech and the real extent of its reasonable restrictions thereof.

Hate Speech: Regulations and Legal Provisions in India 

In a democratic country like India which possess diverse communities of people, castes, creed, religions and languages as its unique nature, the principle of autonomy and free speech does not malign properly and wholly. This idiosyncratic nature of our Indian structure is one of the greatest challenges before the principle of autonomy and free speech principle. There is a constant battle of opinions to ensure that this liberty is not exercised to the detriment of any individual or the disadvantaged group or section of the society. 

As per the Indian Penal Code, the concept of hate speech constitutes under Section 153A, which is the offence of promoting communal disharmony or feelings of hatred between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 categorizes the offence of promoting religious, racist, linguistic, community or caste hatred or incites any religious, caste or any other disharmony or enmity within India, through any speech either in written form or spoken, Section 298 also classifies the offence of uttering words with the deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person, Section 505 similarly criminalizes the act of delivering speeches that incite violence. As per the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Section 123(3A) also criminalizes hate speech of candidates contesting elections. 
In 2014, a Public Interest Litigation was filed before the Supreme Court of India seeking guidelines on hate speech during elections. It observed that hate speech attempts to marginalize individuals on the basis of their membership in a group which impacts such people socially by diminishing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, the Court observed, lays the groundwork for aggravated attacks on the vulnerable communities in the future. This weakens the ability of people to participate wholly in a democracy. It was further observed that the existing laws in India were sufficient to tackle hate speeches. The root of the problem is not the absence of laws but rather a lack of their effective execution, the Court reiterated.

Analysis of Hate Speech in India: Extent of Reasonable Restriction Principle and Position of State

The issue of the validity of hate speech laws and the extent of already existing hate speech laws has always been a heated debate in India. This issue has time and again raised before the legislature, court as well as the public. Under Article 19(2), the hate speech can be curtailed on the grounds of public order, incitement to offence and security of the State. In the infamous case of Ram Manohar Lohiya v. State of Bihar, the Apex Court observed that “One has to imagine three concentric circles. Law and order represent the largest circle within which is the next circle representing public order and the smallest circle represents the security of State. It is then easy to see that an act may affect law and order but not public order just as an act may affect public order but not the security of the State.” The standard approach applied for restricting Article 19(1)(a) is the highest when imposed in the interest of the security of the State. 

Further, the Supreme Court while upholding the constitutional validity of Section 295A IPC ruled that this section does not penalize every act of insult or attempt to ‘insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens but it penalizes only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, which are perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class.’ It was held that if an act does not actually cause a breach of public order, its restriction ‘in the interest of public order’ will be deemed reasonable with respect to Article 19(2), since it has a much wider connotation than interest and maintenance of public order. 

In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the court observed that expression could only be restricted when discussion and advocacy amounted to incitement, however, when no ingredient in offence of inciting anybody to do anything which a reasonable man would then the tendency of being an immediate threat to public safety or tranquillity would diminish. Therefore, the context of speech plays a vital role in determining its legitimacy under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and that our commitment to freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered.

Hence, after analyzing the recent landmark decisions, it could be re-iterated that a speech protective regime has been followed in India. The main cause of action behind such a stance is the apprehension and fear of misuse of restrictive statutes by the State. Such a regime has been followed in the United States and the Courts therein are extremely cautious in restricting Article 19 of the Constitution to avoid vitriolic approaches from the public. Pluralism, tolerance, peace and non-discrimination have been termed non-derogatory values by the ECHR in ascertaining the extent of free speech allowed under the Convention.

Conclusion

Hate speech poses a complex situation against freedom of speech and expression. The constitutional approach to these challenges has been far from uniform as the boundaries between impermissible propagation of hatred and protected speech vary across jurisdictions. 

In a landmark judgment of Canada v Taylor, the constitutional validity of hate speech laws was challenged since it violated the right to freedom of speech and expression. It was held that hate and propaganda contribute little to the aspirations of Canadians or Canada in the quest for truth, the promotion of individual self‑development, or the protection and fostering of a vibrant democracy where the participation of all individuals is accepted and encouraged. The Supreme Court of Canada opined that hate speech laws are indeed a part of the global commitment to eradicate racism and communal disharmony. 

However, ‘with every right comes responsibility’; and therein, is the need for a limitation on the right to freedom of speech and expression so as to prevent the destructive and regressive effect it could have. There is a massive need to revise and amend the existing anti-discrimination legislation with respect to hate speech without curtailing the freedom of speech and expression of people. Laws should be implemented in a non-selective, non-arbitrary and transparent manner, along the lines of golden principles of the constitution which should not be used to stifle dissent or the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Lastly, the fight against hate speech should not be pursued in isolation but with a harmonious holistic approach. Our constitutional history must be maligned with the traditional approaches along the lines of recent development and usage of hate speech laws, especially in terms of yellow journalism these days. With excessive interference of the media into the facts and evidence of the case has led the judiciary to negatively view such journalists as ‘thought intelligentsia’, which in turn impacts the justice delivery system as well. Therefore, a harmonious balance must be drawn while dealing with such matters and reasonable restrictions must be applied and followed strictly and not liberally in our diverse democratic country.

Understanding the Right to Privacy: The Puttaswamy Judgment-I

In 2017, the 9 judges of the Indian Supreme Court adjudicated a matter Puttaswamy v. Union of India (‘Puttaswamy’) and unanimously held that under the Indian Constitution, the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court declared that its previous judgments in MP Sharma (8 judges) and Kharak Singh (6 judges) are overruled as they did not recognise privacy as a fundamental right. Those judgments relied on the logic used in the A.K. Gopalan case which stated that every fundamental right to be read separately and individually. But that position got changed in R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, and subsequently in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, in which the Court held that fundamental rights cannot be read in water-tight compartments. In Cooper, the Court said that the fundamental rights ‘do not attempt to enunciate distinct rights’, rather they are interlinked. Hence, this article must be read in light of the principle enunciated in the Cooper case. In this article, I will try to highlight the reasoning behind Puttaswamy as to why the Court declared Right to Privacy as a fundamental right.

Understanding Right to Life and Dignity

Every human being by the virtue of her existence has a Right to Life which is a natural right guaranteed by the ‘Nature’. Further, this natural right to life is also guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 21 which elucidates that the ‘state’ shall not violate any person’s right to life and personal liberty without the procedure established by law. The Right to life is not just the right of a person’s physical body, but also over her mental being. In Golaknath case, Justice Rao observed that ‘Fundamental Rights are the modern name for what has been traditionally known as Natural Rights’ [The usage of the word ‘natural’ here is opposed to the societal opinion/understanding of the rights ‘as they are since time immemorial’, rather it is based on the transformative nature of rights which are always evolving]. These rights, including the right to life, cannot be excluded or separated from human existence. Hence, the rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution are the natural rights of every human being, which it aims to preserve.

Dignity, as an expression, finds its place in the Preamble of the Constitution as it states that ‘ensuring the dignity of every individual’. An individual is the focal point of the Constitution and human dignity weaves through the provisions of the Constitution. [Article 14: Guarantee against arbitrariness; Article 19: Individual Freedoms; Article 21: Life and personal liberty] The Court in the Francis Mullin case strongly observed that the fundamental rights must be interpreted to enhance the human dignity and ‘worth of the human person’. The Right to Life is not just animal existence and it is much more than just mere survival. On human dignity, the five-judges bench in M. Nagraj exposits that, “no exact definition of human dignity exists. It refers to the intrinsic value of every human being, which is to be respected. It cannot be taken away. Every human being has dignity by virtue of his existence.” Further, observing about dignity, it has been observed in Selvi’s Case that forcible intrusion into a person’s mental processes is also a violation of Human Dignity.

Privacy and Human Dignity

Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle distinguishes private life from public life. He distinguishes the spheres where the government can intervene and where it cannot; certainly as he observes that government cannot intervene in an individual’s privacy.  Individual’s private life is mainly for “private reflection, familial relations and self-determination” (refer to the constitutional database to read the hyperlinked article). The individual is sovereign over her mind and body. As Justice Chandrachud posits (Puttaswamy ¶32),

“If the reason for protecting privacy is the dignity of the individual, the rationale for its existence does not cease merely because the individual has to interact with others in the public arena.”

An individual has all the freedom and liberty over his body and mind and she must be set free from any kind of intrusion. Privacy, as a right, is important for an individual to exercise control over his or her personality. ‘Privacy ensures that a human being can lead a life of dignity by securing the inner recesses of the human personality from unwanted intrusion.’ (Puttaswamy ¶113) Life without dignity, privacy and liberty is no life as they are inalienable to a human being. No state can violate these rights as they exist even before the advent of the Constitution. The constitution is ‘not the sole repository of the right to life.’ India has signed and ratified UDHR and its Article 12 recognises the Right to Privacy which cannot be taken away by anyone.

 Further, the argument that the right to privacy is not available under the text of the Constitution is based on a primitive understanding of it. The Constitution is a transformative text which evolves over time and it cannot be viewed as a document ‘written in ink to replace one legal regime with another’. It is a document which rests on the goals enshrined in the Preamble and the aim is to realise those goals. The Constitution does not tells us what is a right or do we have a right or not? It only puts the limitations on the power of the state. It is not the source of liberty of man as liberty exists by the mere virtue of existence in the world.

Therefore, the right to privacy is a part of the liberty of an individual and privacy protects the individual’s autonomy and dignity. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ which everyone seeks is founded upon liberty and dignity of an individual. ‘Both are essential attributes of privacy which makes no distinction between the birthmarks of an individual.’ The guarantee of the right to privacy liberates the individual and helps her in realising her potential and autonomy.

In conclusion, while embracing the Supreme Court’s judgment in Puttaswamy v. Union of India, a paragraph from Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Comparative Constitutional Law (2015) is something to look forward to:

“The right to privacy can be both negatively and positively defined. The negative right to privacy entails the individuals are protected from unwanted intrusion by both the state and private actors into their private life, especially features that define their personal identity such as sexuality, religion and political affiliation, i.e., the inner core of a person’s private life….. The positive right to privacy entails an obligation of states to remove obstacles for an autonomous shaping of individual identities.”

[Note: There are certain reservations about the Court’s judgment with regard to ‘declaring Privacy as a Natural Right and not merely a Fundamental Right’. This has been argued here and here]

Protection of Animal rights under the Indian Constitution

[This is a post by Suvechha Sarkar, Contributing Member]

The whole world is under great threat as a result of the drastic climate change that has been happening for the last three decades. The global warming and the extinction of many animal and plant species have been something which could not be overlooked due to the adverse condition which we are facing in our day to day lives. The most threatened part of nature is that of the trees and animals. In the 21st century,  animal managers have been facing greater and bigger problems as compared to ever. They constantly have to keep up with their inventive and innovative sides.

In India, in the past 10 years, there has been a gradual rise in the number of cruelties against animals. It must be stated as the shame of humanity, especially in India where animals are being worshipped. There are provisions in the Indian Constitution, in the Indian Penal Code which lays down laws against the brutalities against animals but the question remains how strict the laws are.

Laws in India regarding the Rights and Welfare of animals

The Indian Constitution lays down some of the Animal Rights under the Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and the Directive Principles of State Policy. Apart from these the rest of the laws and punishments concerning animal rights are listed in Section 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, 1974, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

SECTION 428 OF INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860

The following act states that if someone causes any harm or mischief by killing or injuring any animal, by any means the value of which is ten rupees or more than that is entitled to maximum 2 years of imprisonment and may be entitled with fine or maybe with both.

SECTION 429 OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1872

Whoever causes any mischief by killing or injuring any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, ox, cow or bull or any other animal by any means, the value of which may be fifty rupees or more, the person will be entitled with a punishment of imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years or with fine or maybe both.

SECTION 154 OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE, 1973

A person can file for an FIR against the cruelties towards animals or protect the animal rights, in the nearest or local police station under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The person under fault will be punished accordingly considering the offence he committed falls under the cognizable or non-cognizable offence.

THE WILDLIFE PROTECTION ACT, 1972

Under this following act, injuries to both the trees and the wild animals are being prohibited (under Section 39). In the list of wild animals, it consists of all animals including the mammals, birds and the reptiles. For the case of reptiles and the birds, even their eggs fall under the protection of this Act. The punishment for the first offence under this act is imprisonment for three years or maybe a fine of twenty-five thousand rupees or maybe both. For the second offence under this following act, the imprisonment is for a term of seven years with a fine amount of ten thousand rupees.

THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS ACT, 1960

Under this following Act, the law states protect the animals from the cruelties like slaughtering, transportation, cruelty against a pet or not providing an animal with the needed living condition etc. The punishment for the first offence under this act is a fine of a maximum of fifty rupees and in the case of a second offence, the person can be punished with maximum three-month imprisonment or fine of minimum twenty-five rupees and a maximum of hundred rupees. In some cases, it can lead to both at the same time.

Animal rights and the Indian Constitution

Fundamental Rights

The fundamental rights stated in the Constitution of India (Part III) lays down the rights of every citizen of India irrespective of the caste, creed, colour, race, place or religion. The main question which can be raised is what rights do the animals have when it is not only the people who are living in this country. The only fundamental right which can be used for fighting towards the rights of animals is that of Article 21 which is the Right to Life. Article 21 states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors., the Supreme Court had introduced some of the animal rights under the following article thus expanding its scope on a large scale. The case was filed against the game of Jallikattu which involved the use of bulls. Across the years, the game had led to the death of many humans along with the concerns for the welfare of these bulls as during the ongoing of the game, they were injured with sticks, knives in order to win. It was in this case, the Supreme Court passed the order in favour of the Animal Welfare Board of India. As a result, the game was banned. The court stated that “Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution is the “Magna Carta of animal rights” and made several observations to safeguard the “life” of animals under Article 21.

Directive Principles of State Policy

The directive principles are enshrined in Part IV of the Indian Constitution. It consists of fifteen principles which are in no way enforceable in the court of law and in a way helps the states to formulate its laws and policies. Article 48 and Article 48A of the Indian Constitution lays down the principles concerning the welfare of the animals and their rights. The following article talks about the problems regarding the cow slaughter. India is a country where cows are worshipped by people of many religions and considered sacred on a separate level. It states that the farmers or the farms should take enough care of the farm animals especially the cattle. It is stated that the farms should put the effort into making the breed better.

This particular provision prohibiting the slaughter of cows had been a matter of hot debate among the Constituent Assembly members. It was argued if it could be added under the list of the fundamental rights or not but ultimately it was decided to be added to the directive principles since it was in contradiction with the Article 9 of the Indian Constitution which stated the Right to Religion. In the case of Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar (1959), the court dealt with the same problem. The judgement went in the favor of Article 9 observing that the banning of cow slaughter was next to impossible keeping in mind the diverse religious practices of the Indian citizen.

Fundamental Duties

The fundamental duties pertaining to the protection of animal rights are found in Article 51A, part IV of the Indian Constitution. Just like the directive principles of the State Policy, the fundamental duties are unenforceable in the Court of Law. Only two of the clauses in Article 51A of the Constitution consists of laws which are in concern of animal welfare. It is stated as follows:

“(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures;

(h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”

Conclusion

There has been an increase in the reports of cases concerning animal abuse and cruelties. As the year 2020 is passing by inside the four walls of our rooms, it is becoming more evident how the caged animals might feel. From cases of poaching to trapping them cruelly in iron traps or ropes, thus injuring them, to the cases of beating the stray dogs or poisoning them, beating them to death, the existence of humanity is constantly being questioned. It is not only the duty of Law to protect the animals. It also depends on us who are sharing the planet with them.

At the present situation, millions of rabbits, mice and various other animals are being used for various scientific experiments. They tend to develop various problems which are not only associated with their physique but also their mind. We need to understand that it’s not only the humans who are affected under the cu=ircumstances of loneliness but also them. The experiments usually involve usage of various drugs over them or even cutting them open in various instances. Many organizations have already been protesting against it but the use of certain animals for experimentation is still legal in all countries. The law should be reformed so that this cruel practice can be stopped because at the end all lives matter, be it humans or animals. 

The Indian Laws are constantly developed for the protection of the animals and their welfare but unlike some other countries, the animal laws in our country are far less rigid and as a result, many people are getting away with their act of cruelty. More amendments should be brought in the Constitution of India listing Articles in the context of animal protection and rights. It is indeed a crucial moment for us to prove that humanity still exists among us and has not faded away.

“Publishing of notice of Intended Marriage”: A Privacy loophole under Special Marriage Act

[This is a post by Shreya Singh, Contributing Member.]

Marriage is considered as a sacred institution in India which is governed by codified personal laws. The Supreme Court of India has recently accepted a petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 6 under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 contending that the provision violates the Right to privacy, equality and non-discrimination vested in the Constitution of India. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 is distinct from other personal laws as it provides rules and regulations regarding marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party.

The Apex court has agreed to examine the provisions which obligate the Marriage Officer to publish a notice of an intended marriage allowing people to come forward and object the intended marriage within 30 days of the date of publication of the notice. The details include their names, date of birth, age, occupation, parents’ names and details, address, pin code, identity information, phone number, etc. which is a particular requirement of the Act. It also mentions that anyone can raise an objection to the marriage, and gives significant power to the marriage officer to investigate them as well.

The provision invades privacy and violates fundamental rights 

The right to privacy was recognised by the Supreme Court in the nine-judge bench landmark judgement in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017). The Supreme court declared that right to privacy is a fundamental right and is an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, contending that it is the responsibility of the sovereign State/Nation to protect the privacy of an individual. Therefore, the State must not intervene in the personal lives of the people and the choices made by them which includes a person’s decision of whom he/she should marry. On the contrary, the said provisions of the Special marriage act, 1954 obligates the marriage officer to put personal details of the couple in the public domain for other people to decide whether the potential solemnisation of marriage is acceptable or not. 

The notice of marriage not only invades the private lives and liberty of the individuals but also jeopardizes the marriage as it may endanger the life or limb of the couple due to parental interference. In the case of Lata Singh v State of UP (2006), a two-judge bench of the apex court, in the landmark judgement stated as follows:

“This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence.”

In the case of Shakti Vahini v. Union of India(2018), the Supreme court held that the right to choose a life partner is a fundamental right under Article 21 and does not require the consent of anyone else other than the two legally competent persons (adults) for the solemnisation of marriage. The disclosure of marriage between inter-faith/inter-caste couples can invite religious conflicts amongst both the communities and may lead to physical violence and honour killings. A prominent example of such violence is the Khaap Panchayat in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi and the honour killings practised by them. The publishing of intended marriage mentioned in the Special Marriage Act may attract such communal conflicts and unfortunate blood-shed which will only create hatred amongst religious communities. 

It is observed that there is an inconsistency in the personal laws for the solemnisation of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act,1955, does not demand a notice of intended marriage to be published which is contrary to the Special Marriage Act, 1954. This clearly proves the arbitrary nature of the laws and its failure in satisfying reasonable classification under Article 14 of the Constitution. The provision also violates Article 15 of the constitution of India as it promotes inequality in the society and discriminates people on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste and place of birth. 

Uniform Civil Code: Need of the hour 

The conflicting provisions in the personal laws have been a prominent issue in India. The conflicting requirements of multiple laws create unnecessary confusion in the judiciary and give rise to the arbitrary nature of judgements. The establishment of a Uniform Civil Code can bring relief to conflicts regarding the inconsistency of personal laws as it will apply equally to all the citizens of India regardless of their religion. It would help in bringing about a positive change in society by preventing communal violence and maintaining peace and harmony. 

Conclusion 

In India, marriage is hardly considered as a private affair between two consenting adults. It is believed in India that – “Marriage isn’t a union of two people; but the union of two communities/families”. Marriage is still a victim of patriarchy as it is driven by the notion that choosing a desired partner against the standards that have been set by society is unacceptable. The romanticisation of marriage being a topic of communal-union must not penetrate and affect the private lives and the choices made by individuals. 

There have been progressive decisions made by the state of Kerala regarding this issue as they have recently issued a circular to bring a halt to the publication of notice of marriage and this has been supported by high courts of Delhi and Rajasthan as well. The Supreme court must consider these progressive examples to make a rational decision and help in bringing about a significant change in Indian society. 

EIA Draft 2020 and Constitutional Concerns

[This is a post by Minnah AbrahamContributing Editor]

Introduction

Noting the several holes piercing right through EIA draft 2020, several concerns were immediately raised, questioning India’s obligations towards the larger interest of the general public, with its disturbing clauses, especially the removal of public consultations and the insertion of ‘post-facto clearance’. Not to mention that the draft was made to be available only in English and Hindi initially, which goes against the very principles of democracy, pertaining to the duty enshrined to the government to take the draft law to its people. This, however, is another concern, where a serious amendment is necessary in the Official Language Act for the government to issue draft laws and notices in regional languages. 

Coming back to the EIA Draft 2020, this draft law weakens India’s position toward environmental protection and upholding the Constitutional Article 48A, forsaking the duty of the State to protect, improve and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

EIA Draft 2020

The Environment Impact Assessment 2020 is condemned as supportive of ventures on the grounds that the draft permits post-facto clearance meaning the concerned authorities can affirm an undertaking with no adequate formalities. This further implies the onus of acceptance of infringement lies on the polluter and the polluter can look for clearance after it has started work and has just caused ecological damages. There are just about 40 distinct undertakings that are barred from the natural leeway and public discussion in this way shouldn’t be affirmed dependent on the assurance and climate wellbeing rules. The exception is material to: 

  • Those tasks that are sorted as key by the legislature. 
  • Citizens cannot approach data identified with these undertakings. 
  • Public Highway ventures and inland water squander ventures. 
  • Projects up to one lakh 50,000 square meters. 

The projects that are recorded under the B2 classification require scarcely the two-stage cycle to conclude whether to allow or dismiss the proposition. 

As indicated by the draft, just government authorities, delegates, and project defenders are permitted to report the infringement. This clause has removed the privilege of individuals to report an infringement, which in the past has caused significantly to prevent enterprises and specialists from going excessively far inconsistency with misuse.

Ex-post facto clearance is not a new term, as it has been an evading practice often manipulated to entertain illegal or corrupted activities. While the current law states that projects to obtain environmental clearance prior to any commencement of the activity, this new insertion of ‘Ex-post facto clearance’ provides an exception that violates the requirement of mandatory clearance. 

Detailing on ‘ease of doing business’ and Constitutional duties

The whole point of the EIA draft 2020 is the way out on how not to do an environmental impact assessment. The emphasis is on getting environmental clearance and assent. India is under a global commitment to conduct EIA(s). It is a scientific, legitimate, and social apparatus to evaluate the conceivable ecological results of proposed projects. The draft EIA warning has three fundamental destinations: firstly, to guarantee that most environmentally damaging consequences do not need an EIA; secondly, make wide special exceptional cases for EIAs, for example, higher thresholds; thirdly, guarantee that those (ventures) that require EIAs are not examined by either people in general or concerned authorities. There is no proof that every one of these provisions will help accomplish the financial position. The straightforward explanation is that significantly under the current EIA 2006 system, no project is ever dismissed. The ministry of environment’s history is 100% approved for all activities. 

The rundown of businesses permitted to start ventures without EIA clearance incorporates probably the most perilous and high effect enterprises, for example, creation of synthetics and acids, concrete plants, oil exploration, stream valley projects and mining, among others. It additionally expresses that huge solar-based parks, safeguard ventures and mechanical domains do not need to go through any EIA procedural cycle under the pretext of ‘national interest’.

The proposed draft additionally expresses that red classified projects, high limit high impact projects would now be able to begin inside 5 km of secured territories and environmentally delicate regions, which was prior confined to a 10km radius area. 

Common Society participation and citizen engagement in Environment Impact Assessment measure have been considered incredibly pivotal in environmental administration and democratic government. Nevertheless, the basic apparatus of public discussion has been pulled back from practically all categories of polluting and high impact undertaking projects. Aside from taking them off the pre-project consultation procedure, they have additionally been denied any part in taking the perception of any violation or raising a voice against a pollution-risky and violating industry.

The draft additionally expresses that in the event of specific undertakings that actually have public consultation norms applicable, just material ecological concerns can be shared, no other connected social effect or long-term wellbeing concerns. The SC decided in Rural Litigation & Entitlement vs. State of U.P that Article 21 of the Constitution states that no individual will be denied of his life or personal liberty in a 1983 stoppage of limestone mining in Doon Valley. Necessitates that when commercial activities obliterate environments and ecological processes on which life depends, commerce must stop, on the grounds that the coherence of life through the protection of the fundamental cycles of nature is a constitutional commitment. It is additionally a moral and civilisational commitment. 

Concluding remarks

Although the EIA draft 2020 was brought forth with keeping in mind ‘conditions and threshold on the undertaking of some project or expansion or modernization of such existing project’, it has clearly stated the draft imposes restrictions and limitation upon the common public and making way easier for commercial giants and industries to carry forth the projects without having to screen through regulatory and adequate procedures. 

This ‘anti-ecological’ law is backward and against the inherent constitutional right to information. In a nation where debasement and infringement of law are common, the draft is by all accounts changed and recharged to serve the personal stakes of elites by preventing the truth from getting environmental change. 

The EIA 2006 thought about assessments of individuals through open discussion before the last endorsement of an undertaking. Not exclusively did the new draft eliminate the privilege of public counsel on specific exercises yet additionally abbreviate the 30 days’ notice period for hearing and handling reactions to 20 days. 

The legislature has created a false fantasy that environmental laws are an obstacle to economic development, and the vast majority, including the courts, cheerfully have confidence in this so-called myth. More or less, the EIA Draft 2020 is not only mistaken at certain levels, yet in reality, it consists of a summary of all potential infringement one could envision vis-á-vis environmental administration in the nation. The simplicity of working together cannot just rule over worries of public wellbeing and environmental concerns.

The EIA draft 2020, once executed, would prompt a generous increment in deforestation, illegal mining, and development exercises in earth weak territories and left with no opportunity for individuals or activists to report the infringement. In fact, these are the occasions wherein governments ought to increase the environmental-conscious rules and guidelines for a safer, better tomorrow.

Marital Rape in India: The Public/Private Dichotomy

[This is a post by Panya Mathur, Contributing Member]

[Editorial Note: Constitutional Renaissance Blog would like to thank Ms Bansari Kamdar for having an insightful discussion on ‘Marital Rape Laws’ in India. Reach out to Ms Kamdar here.]

In India, there exists a complex conundrum in relation to the vast number of issues surrounding the criminalisation of marital rape. There has been a great measure of sanctity involved with marriage. Marriage is seen as a sacrament, a union of two souls, who will remain in complete exclusivity to one another for all purposes in their lifetime. This can be proved by the existence of personal laws in the country. For instance, the institution of marriage in the Hindu community occupies a prime role in the social construct of a Hindu. The concept of consent in the sexual relationship in a marriage is dicey and difficult to navigate. A marriage rests on the concepts of a moral cement that produces ‘two-in-one-ship’. 

The exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for brevity IPC) states as follows:

“Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”
And the Section 376B of the Indian Penal Code reads as follows:

“Whoever has sexual intercourse with his own wife, who is living separately, whether under a decree of separation or otherwise, without her consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.” 

The notion of the Marital Rape exception can be traced as far back as 1736 when Sir Matthew Hales declared that ‘the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which cannot retract.’  

The horrors of Harvender Kaur

In the case of Harvender Kaur v. Harmender Singh Choudhary, the Court did not hesitate to opine that “the introduction of constitutional law in the home is most inappropriate. It is like introducing a bull in a china shop and that neither Article 21 nor Article 14 had any place in the privacy of the home. In a sensitive sphere which is at once most intimate and delicate, the introduction of the cold principles of constitutional law will have the effect of weakening the marriage bond”. In the case of Smt. Saroja Rani vs. Sudarshan Kumar Chadha, the bench judge explicitly agrees to the judgement given in the Harvinder Kaur Case, hoisting the requirement of the existence of a private sphere wherein the law does not seek a stance, in order to preserve the moral fabric and sanctity of the society. 

However, what has been conveniently ignored by the Hon’ble Court is that in both conditions of rape and marital rape the primary definition of rape remains a constant that is sexual penetration or intercourse wherein there exists a lack of consent. Therefore, to prove that the crime of rape has occurred, it is essential to prove the absence of unequivocal consent. Moreover, the burden to prove this absence of consent usually rests on the victim; however, in certain cases such as that in the case of minors, it is presumed that consent does not exist due to the presumption created in law that such minors are incapable of providing consent to any sexual acts. Similarly, in the case where the victim and perpetrator are in a marital relationship, there is a presumption of consent on the part of the wife even when such equivocal consent required by Section 375 is not present. The same can be proved by the mere existence of the exception to Section 375 of I P C.  Moreover, the State has selectively penetrated into this marital sphere by enacting legislation that deals with the violence of women in matrimonial homes. PWDVA, 2005 and Section 498A of the IPC provides a remedy for women who are victims of forms of abuse in the marital sphere. Hence, to empower women and protect them from violence in a domestic relationship, the State should rightfully criminalize marital rape break down the public/private dichotomy. The Supreme Court in the case of Independent Thought v. Union of India, partly struck down a part of the exception clause in section 375 citing it to be in violation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and in violation of a child’s fundamental rights. The court notes that marriage cannot be the sole reason for any reasonable differentiation for girls between the ages of 15-18 years. In doing so the court explicitly made note of the fact that marriage cannot be reasonable classification. Even though the court keenly observed that the judgment did not speak of adult marital rape it is important to note that the court held a woman’s right cannot be subservient to her personal rights simply on basis of marriage.

In the case of State of Tamil Nadu vs. K. Shyam Sundar, the Court has held that whenever there is express arbitrariness that exists in law or State action, irrespective of whether it was legislative or not, Article 14 immediately springs into action, and the said action is struck down. Moreover, the term ‘arbitrary’ means an act that has been done in a manner that is unreasonable, and has been done at pleasure and has been done in a capricious manner without any determining principle, not founded on the nature of things, is non-rational and does not have a standard functioning principle. In order to find out that an act is arbitrary, there must be proof of ‘substantive unreasonableness’ and in the said circumstance, the test of reasonable differentia has not been complied with, because the purpose of criminal laws prohibiting rape or indeed any kind of physical violence or unwanted touching is to maintain a person’s bodily integrity. 

Conclusion

However, it must be noted that there are numerous other legislations that protect the rights of married women which have been provided by the Legislature. One cannot look at the exception to rape in isolation, and state that the rights of married women have been deprived. The overall position is that the husband can still be liable for domestic violence or cruelty under the IPC and other specific legislation. Spousal rape should be viewed as an abuse of the marriage relationship, with some protection being deemed necessary for the abused spouse. The State provides protection for the same under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as well as the Section 498A of Indian Penal Code. Moreover, the marital sphere does not rest on the pillars of contracts sealed with permanent terms and conditions that must be maintained to continue the relationship. Neither does the concept of marriage exist on the tenets of Constitutional Law to enforce inalienable rights into a relationship of such sanctity. Thus, it can be concluded that there exists a lack of protection that exists when it comes to the rights of married women in the country. And this lacunae in the law should either be resolved by removing the exception 2 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, that excludes married women from the purview of its protection, or by extending the purview of Section 498A and other such laws. 

A Conservative Amendment in a Liberal Constitution: The First Amendment

[Editorial Note: The author would like to thank Tripurdaman Singh for his book Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment of the Constitution of India and Amit Varma for a wonderful discussion on his podcast Seen and the Unseen]

It was the year 1951 and the Supreme Court had passed two judgments, Brij Bhushan v. the State of Delhi and Romesh Thapar v. the State of Madras, upholding the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under the Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution. It was before the First Constitutional Amendment when the Constitution was considered to be ‘fairly liberal’ as the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 were not subject to so many restrictions as we see today. Restrictions were there in the original Constitution as well, no doubt, as they are necessary. Then, the freedoms were the rights and the restrictions were the exceptions to those rights. But what followed after these two judgments was an act of Parliament (more of Nehru’s) which turned the freedoms into (somewhat) exceptions.

The First Constitutional Amendment, 1951

It has to be kept in mind that the first amendment was discussed and passed by the provisional parliament which did not have a ‘popular mandate’. It was the provisional Parliament’s members who framed the Constitution but they were not the constituent assembly. But for Nehru, it did not make any difference, as he said in the assembly:

“Now, that Constituent Assembly which has gone into the history of India is no more; but we who sit here, or nearly all of us, still continue that tradition, that link. In fact, it is we after all, who was the Constituent Assembly and who drafted this Constitution. Then we were not supposed to be competent enough to draft the Constitution. But now, the work we did was so perfect that we are not now competent enough to touch it! That is rather an odd argument.” 

He was right somehow, they were not competent to amend the Constitution as they did not have any popular mandate and this amendment could have waited till the elections. But it was nothing, but sixty stormy days of debates, discussion and dictatorial behaviour! Before the amendment, Article 19(2) read as:

“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevents the State from making any law relating to, libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any matter which offends against decency or morality or which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the State.”

It did not have any ‘reasonable restriction’ clause in it. But the restrictions were not so much. After the amendment, clause 2 of Article 19 read as follows:

“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

This means that parliament can frame a ‘law’ which can restrict the freedom of speech and expression if that law is in furtherance of the restrictions given thereunder. Restrictions like public order or incitement to an offence are vague and can create a long-lasting chilling effect and they are, even now. Suppose, there is a rally in protest against any law passed by the state, then the state can restrict that protest and say it violates the public order, hence, citizens cannot exercise their right to speak against the government and they can invoke the draconian section 124A (Sedition) of IPC, 1860 [which is an offence under a law made by the state].

The Reasons for Amendment and the Opposing Views

In the cases of Brij Bhusan and Romesh Thapar, the government attempted to curb the freedom of the press and the right to free speech and expression. But the Court struck down that imposed restraint on civil liberties. When the question of interpretation of Article 19 came up, the Supreme Court held that if the maintenance of public, order or securing the public safety was something which did not affect the security of the State or the overthrowing of the State, then there could be no restriction on freedom of speech. The amendment was being made to overrule these judgments [hence, the words public order etc. were added], but PM Nehru said ingeniously in the assembly as he said: “We are not putting down any kind of curb or restraint. We are removing certain doubts so as to enable Parliament to function if it so chooses and when it chooses. Nothing else happens when this Bill is passed except to clarify the authority of Parliament.” These amendments have chilling effects till now. We still see so many violations of civil rights in the name of these so-called restrictions.

Nehru’s vision of freedom was more conservative (and not so liberal) as a Prime Minister than as a leader of the Congress party during the freedom struggle. According to him, the freedom of speech ‘carries with itself responsibilities and obligations’ and if they are not performed, then there would be no freedom. This goes against liberal thought.

The Parliament and the government could have dealt with the problems of public order or incitement of offence through preventive detention laws. Now, supposing there are persons who are preaching murder and who are doing, something of that character, supposing there is some newspaper which is doing something of that character and the writer is there, the individual can be secured under the Preventive Detention Act. So, if the Parliament or the Government want to prevent a person or group of persons from committing acts which they consider to be against the interests of public order, then they are already clothed with sufficient authority to do so.

The amendment does not bear any fruit, except increasing the power of the government. Another restriction which is placed is the restriction on criticism or speech on ‘friendly relations with other states’. On this Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who I feel is a text-book example of a classic liberal during the debates, said: “I have not been able to find any precedent in any part of the civilised world whereby law under the provisions of the Constitution criticism of foreign powers is taboo.

He cast doubts on the meaning of ‘friendly relations with other states’, as he said: “we may say anything about a foreign country with the utmost friendship in our hearts but if that country misunderstands and says that it offends it or it affects our friendly relations with them, you are at once bound by the provisions of the Constitution.” If the government today passes any law in furtherance of these restrictions, then anything can be restricted and the civil liberties and freedoms will merely become exceptions.

The fears apprehended by Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee are now re-surfacing back in 2020 as we witness internet shutdown(s) in Kashmir using Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, use of draconian laws like National Security Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to curb Freedom of Speech and Expression among other violations. We see these violations of free speech and civil liberties and the reason (not the sole reason though) behind such regressive measures is this hurried, hasty and (“unconstitutional”) First Constitutional Amendment Act. PM Nehru, despite his charismatic leadership and vision, did put the Constitution and civil liberties in danger.

In conclusion, let us revisit the prophetic warning given by Dr Mukherjee and try to draw parallels in contemporary times:

“Maybe you [Nehru] will continue for eternity, in the next generation, for generations unborn; that is quite possible. But supposing some other party comes into authority? What is the precedent you are laying down?

The fears imagined by Mukherjee in 1951 still haunts us today!

Right to Protest, Restrictions and Democracy: Supreme Court and the Chilling Effect

Recently in the case of Amit Sahni v. Union of India, the Supreme Court passed a judgment on an infructuous matter which will have a long-lasting effect on civil liberties, especially the right to protest. The judgment of the Court feels like a judgment written by the central government in furtherance of an ‘executive court’. The 3-judges bench creates a chilling effect on the free speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably (without arms).

The matter relates to the protests being held that Shaheen Bagh (New Delhi) and it was filed in February 2020. The protestors at Shaheen Bagh were dispersed in March after the Nation-wide lockdown which, ‘usually’ lead to dismissal of the matter. The judges ignored the factual matrix present in the case and the reasons for blockade were not because of the protestors, but the administration (police) which blocked the nearby roads and public routes. The Court classifies the constitutional and peaceful protests as “encroachments or obstructions.”

What did the court say?

The Court recognised the right to protest and the right to dissent in a democracy. The Court held that the Articles 19(1) (a) and (b), “in cohesion, enable every citizen to assemble peacefully and protest against the actions or inactions of the State.” Then, the Court moves onto the “reasonable restrictions” stated under Article 19(2) and (3). The judgment looks like as if the norm is turned into an exception, and the exception is now the norm. The Court tried to balance the right to protest with the right of other citizens to commute. It must be noted that the balancing is not done by applying the principles of proportionality, but by presuming that the protests ‘always’ disturbed the smooth traffic and commute of the citizens. The Court did not accept the plea that “an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest.” This creates a chilling effect on the right to protest – the court cannot sit as an executive and lay down policies. Suppose the government plans to make some amendment in the Constitution which infringes the basic structure of the Constitution, then should the citizens sit quietly and just witness the democratic backsliding or come on the streets to express their will? As Gautam Bhatia says “in today’s day, it is important to retrieve and to build constitutionalism without the Courts, even as it remains equally important to continue to engage with and in the courts.” The check on the executive power must come from the fourth branch of democracy, which is the civil societies, media and the citizens. (See the blog on Executive Aggrandizement and democratic backsliding)

The Right to Assemble Peacefully and the Right to Protest

The rights are guaranteed under clause 1 of Article 19 which are not absolute. The restrictions on those rights placed under clause 2-6 cannot be read widely, but narrowly. They are the exceptions to the rights and must be narrowly tailored. The Supreme Court in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India held that “a restriction in order to be reasonable must be narrowly tailored or narrowly interpreted so as to abridge or restrict only what is absolutely necessary.” Further, even in the Constituent Assembly the fears of wider interpretation of ‘reasonable’ restrictions were evident as one of the members Mr Sahaya said:

“In the larger interests of the country, and particularly at the formative stage of the country, to give such wide powers in the hands of the State and with regard to such Fundamental rights as, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement would, I believe, be harmful and result in the creation of a suffocating and stuffy atmosphere as opposed to the free air of a truly free country.”

The right to assemble peacefully is a fundamental right and an enabling right which leads to opening up of spaces and opportunities for civil societies and citizens at large to engage effectively in decision-making processes. This right help to foster increased transparency and accountability and are basic prerequisites for the ultimate goal of securing substantive enjoyment of different human rights in a constitutional democracy. The right to assemble peacefully is a vehicle which enables other socio-political-economic rights. The state can restrict the said right only by a law in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order”. Fearing the so-called “reasonable restriction”, one of the members of the constituent assembly said (H.J. Khandekar):

“For instance, we are given to believe that we could carry on organised agitation for the welfare of Labour, that we can make, in an organised fashion, a demand for the grant of bonus, and if necessary can assemble in public meetings to back up this demand. The truth is that the law restricting the right of holding public meetings would be enforced. Consequently in view of such a law or laws of this kind to be passed in future it may not be possible to hold any public meeting. Thus it is clear that the Government would be in a position to prevent if it so desires, any agitation by Labour for demanding bonus, since all these restrictive laws would be applicable to the workers also. I, therefore, fail to see the significance of the right of forming associations when I find that its substance is taken away by clause (4).”

The Court by giving the state the wider power to designate the area of the protest and the number of people in the protest somehow validates the fears put forth by the Hon’ble member of the Assembly. The Court also says that the protestors, exercising their right to protest, infringes the right to commute of other citizens as protests lead to traffic jams etc. This requires balancing of rights, not just a blanket assumption. According to the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (20 March 2019, Geneva), it was recommended that, “The State’s obligation to facilitate includes the responsibility to provide basic services, including traffic management, medical assistance and clean-up services. Organizers should not be held responsible for the provision of such services, nor should they be required to contribute to the cost of their provision.” On the choice of place and time, which the Court declined to entertain, the Rapporteur recommends that,

“The choice of the venue or location of an assembly by the organizers is an integral part of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly…… Likewise, public areas around iconic buildings are a logical place for to convey a message with regard to institutions housed in these buildings.”

If the state is to ‘choose’ the place of protest, then it will infringe the right to protest as the protests are done to create an impact on the decision-making process and are for maximum participation by the citizens. It is done to make citizens aware of the actions and inactions of the state. If the state chooses the place of protest, then it might choose a place far from the central place of attraction where those sitting in the institutions can see. Like it happened in Jaipur where the place of protest chosen by the state government was 9 kilometres away from the earlier site chosen by the protestors. The free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has indicated that “the competent institutions of the State have a duty to design operating plans and procedures that will facilitate the exercise of the right of assembly … [including] rerouting pedestrian and vehicular traffic in a certain area”. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur points to a decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court which stated that “in a democratic society, the urban space is not only an area for circulation, but also for participation.”

A protest is done in the larger public interest, it is done to exercise dissent against various policies of the state (and sometimes against the judgments of the Court). Holding a protest outside the city, or where there is no attention will ‘extinct’ the genesis of the protest and will fetch no fruits. The Supreme Court held “it has to be borne in mind that total extinction is not balancing” (see Asha Ranjan v. the State of Bihar (2017) 4 SCC 397).

The difficulties caused to the citizens exercising their ‘right to free movement’ is due to the states’ failure to take adequate and sufficient steps. If the state will take necessary actions to “ensure that such dharnas and demonstrations are held within their bounds [and the traffic is diverted, instead of closing the roads], it would have balanced the rights of protestors as well as the residents.” (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India, 2017)

Instead of being a mute spectator, the state and the police authorities should have arranged routes and spaces near Shaheen Bagh for the commuters to exercise their right to ‘free movement’ instead of blaming the protestors for their own insufficiency and inadequacy. The decision of the court to provide a blanket ban on the demonstrations lead to infringement of rights of the citizens and creates a chilling effect. It is the duty of the state to balance the rights of stakeholders and the Court must only adjudicate and protect the rights of every citizen. The purpose of holding protests is that they reach concerned persons for whom these are meant and to exercise the democratic right guaranteed by the Constitution. The decision of the Court is wrong as it will lead to fresh restrictions on the right. To conclude, in the words of TM Krishna, “Unless public spaces are freely available for demonstrations, we will remain a mute democracy.

CISCO Lawsuit: Evidence of Indian-imported Casteism in Silicon Valley

[This is a post by Minnah Abraham, Contributing Editor and Shreya Singh, Contributing Member]

“There is one caste….the caste of humanity”

Dalits in India, the so-called untouchables, are always seen at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in India, which is stagnated and not fluid. Much after caste segregation being banned within the country, disparities and violent discriminatory practices have always been inflicted against Dalits and still continue at different levels.

A few months ago, a suit against CISCO, a multinational technology company in Silicon Valley in the USA by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), ensued for the wrongful discrimination against a Dalit Indian, by two of his Indian-origin superior co-workers. The CISCO event received a lukewarm response from India and US alike, even so much as calling the whole affair as nonsense, leaving the complainant abashed for playing the victim. The Civil Rights Law, 1964 prohibits discrimination only on the basis of race, colour, sex, national origin and familial status. As this case is still under litigation, the California government is pushing to increase the scope of this Act and include ‘caste’ as a substantial issue in the US laws.

Stressing on the global issue of casteism affecting communities in Asia, Middle East, Africa and in various diaspora communities, the very caste-based discrimination and violence contravene the basic principles of universal human integrity and equality, for this concept differentiates between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ age-old categories, which is unacceptable in today’s world. When there is an apparent element of a sense of hierarchy or any sort of manifestation of caste, that deprives oneself of human dignity, this goes against the principles of upholding the human rights of persons belonging to ‘national or ethnic, religious minorities’ as recalled in Human Rights Resolution 2005/79. The annihilation and eradication of those practices will ensure people, a sense of unity and solidarity and gives them a humane way of living, relating to one another. 

A survey commissioned by Equality Labs, a South Asian- American human rights start-up on “Caste in the United States” statistically proved the significance of caste discrimination in American society. The survey resulted that two-third of members belonging to the lowest caste (Dalits) faced caste-based discrimination at their workplace in America. Scholar and social activist Suraj Yengde, working with a non-profit organisation in the US, argues that caste discrimination has been a part of the US since the 1980s and has hardly been addressed by the US media activists. He stated that “People have resisted in private and in public in their own ways. Even hiding one’s caste is a way of fighting caste.”

What happened in the case of CISCO, refers to ‘transnationalization’ of caste, or in simple words, importing casteism to the US. In the words of Paik, “caste distinction is deployed by Brahmins to frame their own merit and put down Dalits as people who do not make it to the merit list at IIT and are got in through ‘scheduled caste’ reservations.” In spite of abolishing the so-called ‘untouchables’ and the Dalit system, which stands lowest in the Indian caste hierarchy of Hindu communities and its practise has extensively prohibited under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, it failed to stop this vicious cycle of violence. What is worrying is that the attacks have gone up manifold in the last decade, in spite of stringent laws and emergence of hidden stories on caste-based discrimination by Dalits Indian in light of CISCO lawsuit. As B.R Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution and a great political leader once stated, “If Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian Caste would be a world problem.”

The case of CISCO astonishingly brings to light how the Indian communities living, portrayed as educated and skilled in pursuit of the American dream, emphasising in reality, the deep-seated caste-based beliefs which they hold on to, are still undetected.

What can be done?

The questions come to the mind as to how India has failed to implement stringent changes in abolishing the casteism fever which has shamelessly has spread to other nations; Is it the lack of proper implementation of rule of law towards holding the wrongful accountable, inability to understand the transcendence of morality above the particularities of politics play and respect toward a legitimate democracy, legally holding all the stakeholders, ranging from any persons of caste, creed, gender, and religion to persons holding positions, be it government officials, elected party leaders, corporate entities answerable to the laws of the country, accountable to each and every one of the Indian citizens. 

Thirty years have gone past since the Mandal Commission recommended inclusive changes towards the eradication of caste discrimination and recognizing the socially and economically backward classes. One of the most popular recommendations of the Mandal commission report, which still exists today, is the well-debated Reservation Policy in public/government jobs as well as educational institutions. Upon elaborating the report, one might come to a conclusion, not much of the effective inclusive strategies were brought into implementation. Listed below are the notable ones that could still be brought into the light, not to forget the farmers’ bills which, of course, resulted in angst and dissatisfaction among the farmer’s society. 

1. The financial assistance to the Agricultural sector  – As most fall in this category consisting of village artisans (skilled/unskilled), landholders, tenants and labourers, it is essential to introduce policies to ensure the concerned Dalit community is able to participate in the fast-paced economy, with the provision of support and financial incentives

2. Creation of employment in the Private sector for youth from backward classes – It is imperative to revive the private sector and manufacturing units to attract the youth towards employment positions rendering them a potential advantage towards growth. This, on the other hand, will lessen demand for job creation in the public and government sector.

International EU laws have another way of tackling the discriminatory practice, knowns as the principle of subsidiarity which amazingly calls for community-wide inclusive measures ensuring the minimum protection standards set against the practice of discrimination in all Member States. This extends not just in the employment sector, but in the healthcare, social sector and education. Recognising and implementing the practice of equal treatment, especially in the work sector, affirming European Commission’sRenewed Social Agenda: Opportunities, Access and Solidarity’, where each person in the society, irrespective of differences is seen as being of equal standing, without any interference from discrimination of any sort of perception of artificial barriers, which often holds oneself to take a step back and depriving the rightfully inherent opportunities. 

It is a peremptory time to consider the consequences of not paying attention to casteism reflected in the society within India and its spread toward neighbouring countries. This can render an opportunity to bring forth institutions, collaborations, nationally and internationally to work toward achieving a respectable community at global level, leaving the next generation without having to fear being able to express or practise at his/her own accord. 

Concluding remarks

The CISCO case has been filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 which prohibits discrimination only on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex and national status. Unfortunately, this doesn’t address the issue regarding caste discrimination. However, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) mentions the prohibition of bias based on ancestry which can open gates for interpretation by the court and include caste-based discrimination. This can be a ray of hope to the Dalit community living in the US and help them break the shackles and escape from this nightmare.  

In order for the Dalit community to cope up with these societal drawbacks, it is necessary to sensitise the public and spread awareness about the existence of caste-based discrimination in the American workspace. Corporates and non-profits in the US, especially tech companies which recruit South Asians at a large scale must have an understanding of Caste in general. There should be regular training organised for the Human Resources Department to address issues related to different levels of Caste Discrimination in American companies with South Asian employees.  

The existence of the Indian caste system is not recognized in the US and therefore, it’s not written in the US laws to prohibit caste-based discrimination. This gives the opportunity to Indian communities, who have transported to the US to exploit the very system, Indian founding fathers of Constitution are seeking to protect and eradicate the ancient notions of a hierarchical society. Although the discriminatory notions of racisms and casteism, which seeks to dignity, based e, colour, gender and hierarchical classes have a long way to go across the nations, the lawsuit against CISCO can set a precedent. This unfolding of events can act as a catalyst to bring an awareness of caste-based discrimination and how a perfectly structured modern, rational, and educated people are prone to slipping to old ways. 

A question arose in my mind while reading this article, i.e. when the claimed condition of Dalits in their native country is not so well, how can we expect another nation altogether to treat them well? If possible, highlight more on the fact that how the Indian state is not reacting to something like this.

Infusing Personal Laws with modern times: Reconsidering ‘Narasu Appa Mali’ case

In this blog post, I will be discussing the need to reconsider the 1951 judgment of Bombay High Court in State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa Mali (‘Narasu’) where justices Chagla and Gajendragadkar held that uncodified personal laws cannot be tested on the touchstone of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Indian Constitution. By doing so the Court protected the ‘regressive practices’ from the strict scrutiny and technically, the Court held that these personal laws are above the Constitution (as there cannot be any rights-based challenge) and above the enacted laws made by the democratically elected governments (which could be challenged under Article 13).

The Ghost of Narasu

Ms Indira Jaising, Sr. Advocate termed the judgment of Narasu as a Ghost which still haunts us till date, not for good reasons. In the case of Narasu, the court was considering the Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act 1951 as it was contended that it violates the fundamental rights of the citizens as it discriminates between Hindus and Muslims in cases of polygamy (as per the Law the Hindus were prohibited and criminalised from marrying more than one wife, whereas the Muslims were still allowed to do so). The law was upheld by the Court as it was a ‘liberal, progressive law’ which aimed to eradicate and punish the social evil. Justice Chagla observed in Paragraph 11:

The Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act is attempting to bring amount social reform is a community which has looked upon polygamy as not an evil institution, but fully justified by its religion. It is also introducing this measure of social reform in a community where the women have looked upon their husbands with reverence and respect.

The problem is not with the decision itself, but with the reasoning deployed by the Court in reaching the conclusion— by holding that all personal laws are protected from any challenge under Part III (Fundamental Rights), which in turn safeguarded the regressive religious practices indefinitely (unless a law is made by the Parliament). As Chintan Chandrachud states in his book: “if and when personal law was codified by the democratically elected legislature, that would be subjected to greater judicial scrutiny than uncodified personal law lacking democratic sanction”. The Court’s idea of ‘personal laws’ is based on colonial jurisprudence. Warren Hastings plan of 1772 (Article XXIII of the plan) provided that the Quran would apply to Muslims and Shastra(s) would apply to Hindus. This led to the rigidity of religious identities and led to polarisation. The Brahmins and Qazis were called to adjudicate the disputes and to interpret the holy texts which led to contradictory interpretations and in the words of Flavia Agnes (in Oxford Handbook on the Indian Constitution), it led to ‘Brahminisation and Islaminisation of laws’. The effect of the judgment can be seen in various cases it like the judgment of Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir(1979) wherein the Court refused to permit a Dalit to become a sanyasi. The Court, unfortunately, held that personal laws cannot be infused with the concept of modern times but they are to be interpreted and enforced as inscribed in religious scriptures and commentaries (Paragraph 31).

Exorcism of Narasu

The Court got many opportunities to overrule the judgment of Narasu. But it has lost many chances and sometimes sidestepped from going into the decision. The court has done so ‘by holding that a practice claimed to be personal law has in fact been codified by statute’. The Court did so in Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2015) wherein the Court held Triple Talaq (Talaq-e-biddat) to be unconstitutional but refused to consider the practice as a part of uncodified ‘personal laws’. Instead of that Justice Nariman held that the practice has been codified in the Shariat Act which can be reviewed by the Court under Article 13. Although Justice Nariman doubted the decision of Narasu (Paragraph 71). The decision of Narasu undermines the Constitution’s transformative nature which aims to eradicate the social evils and transform the society. The liberty of the individuals must not be taken away in the garb of personal laws and it is important to note what Dr Ambedkar said in Parliament on true nature of liberty:

“What are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, so full of inequalities, discriminations and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.”

After Shayara Bano, Justice Chandrachud in his exceptional judgment (Sabarimala Judgment) noted that personal laws either codified or not cannot detract ‘from the notion that no body of practices can claim supremacy over the Constitution and its vision of ensuring the sanctity of dignity, liberty and equality’ (paragraph 101). If we treat personal laws (uncodified) different from the codified personal laws and make them immune from any rights-based challenge, then it undermines the supremacy of the Constitution. Any personal law which contravenes the equality clauses of the Constitution or any other provision must be ultra vires because in a Constitutional Democracy there is no space for regressive, constitutionally immoral and ancient laws. Interesting in 1996, in the case of Masilamani Mudaliar v. The Idol of Swaminathaswami Thirukoli the Supreme Court observed that any personal law which treats women as inferior is ‘anathema to equality’.

On personal laws, eminent jurist HM Seervai in his commentary on Constitutional Law notes that:

“There is no difference between the expression “existing law” and “law in force” and consequently, personal law would be “existing law” and “law in forcecustom, usage and statutory law are so inextricably mixed up in personal law that it would be difficult to ascertain the residue of personal law outside them.

Any law whether statutory, uncodified or codified personal law which treats any individual as inferior dilutes the bridge between the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the self-realisation of those rights by the individuals. As per Justice Chandrachud in Sabarimala, the individual liberties must be recognised as ‘the basic unit of the Constitution’ and this requires that ‘existing structures and laws be viewed from the prism of individual dignity’ (paragraph 100). But even after casting a doubt on the ‘legality’ on Narasu in the Sabarimala case, the Court did not overrule the Narasu judgment explicitly and it remains good in law (symbolically and legally). One category of law, uncodified personal law, is effectively above the Constitution- unfortunately- and the victim(s) of such laws does not have any recourse whatsoever despite having guaranteed rights.

Hope for overruling Narasu

The reasons for overruling Narasu are compelling. The Constitution is a transformative document made for the revival of the society from the various clutches that hold it back. Many times, these personal laws infringe upon the rights of the individuals, in turn holding them from better opportunities which allow an individual to attain liberation (from the oppression of society) and live a dignified life with ‘positive social relationships’.

The Court has observed in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India in Paragraph 95: “the purpose of having a Constitution is to transform the society for the better and this objective is the fundamental pillar of transformative constitutionalism.” The Constitution is structured in a manner wherein it becomes important to realise the needs of changing society to keep itself practical, dynamic and vibrant. The Indian Constitution emerged in the light of historical struggle based on polarisation, discrimination, unequal treatment, lack of opportunities and undemocratic societal setup. Hence, it becomes the task of the Courts to interpret the ‘laws’, whether personal or codified, in a way which cherishes the dignity of all citizens and in the light of the fundamental values enshrined in the Constitution because these personal laws/custom/values of the society affect individual behaviour. Immunising these personal laws from judicial scrutiny will undermine the authority of the Constitution (J. Chandrachud in Sabarimala in Paragraph 99). There is a desideratum to recognise the importance to bring forth these changes and it requires judicial wisdom and political appetite.

 The judgment of Narasu was decided at a time (1951) when the societal conditions were different and it must only be read in the context of that time. But legally, interpretation of the Bombay High Court is wrong and it still haunts us today! To conclude, in the words of Chintan Chandrachud,

Even the most distinguished judges are prone to error. The greater error lies in the failure to make course corrections despite ample opportunity.” (Page 146)

Therefore, for the reasons stated above, the State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa Mali must be overruled.